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Social Centre Interviews: Marion @Can Masdeu Barcelona







January 04  was my third time visiting Canmasdeu, & every time I've been super impressed on the changes & upgrades that have been made to the house & garden. This interview with Luke focuses on this as well as looking at some aspects of the project that could be transferable to social centres in other parts of Europe. 

Do you wanna start by saying a little about yourself & how you came involved in CMD?

I come from England although before I came here I was living & squatting in Holland. & Working on environmental & anti globalisation issues there & the story of how I ended up in Can Masdeu was that during 2000 I was working a lot in Prague on the anti IMF/World Bank protest & in the affinity group that I did a lot of work some of the people came down to Spain to look for a building with the intention of setting up a space very much like this. A little while after the protest I was back in Holland then I was travelling a bit then I was back in Czech then I got an e-mail saying they had squatted & in the same week I was getting evicted from my squat in Holland & I had finished everything I needed to do in Holland so I came down to bring some skills & ideas from there & to try & continue the European anti-globalisation links.

When I arrived I came 2 weeks after it was squatted it was squatted on the 22nd of December & I came in the new year & the house was a right mess not very much glass no water no electricity. When I arrived I only new maybe 5 out of the 10 people in the group & it was the middle of the winter so when I came up to the house their all in one room with one little candle & one little candle so I couldn’t see who I knew so I was just kissing & hugging everybody & then the next day I met the people who were gonna be my new housemates.

Can you tell me what kind of work your involved in here at Can Masdeu?

The work is very variable on a day-to-day basis. Most people that live here are involved in more than one area of the project really. We work in quite an open process so more or less you can pick & choose what you want to be involved in. At the same time we try to pay attention that people who have specific skills are passing them on to other people. For example I do a lot of work on the water system but it’s not my ultimate responsibility to fix the system better we try to pass the information on to different people.  & Often if we have to do renovation work we try to run it a workshop so as we repair something or as we develop some systems that we have some people who don’t know a lot about it who are doing all the work & solving all the problems. & We try to work in this kinda way.

It’s a very diverse project.

On the one had we have the social side of the project & the political side of the project & on the other we have the maintenance of the house it was empty 53 years & parts of the house are from the 16th century & different parts have been bolted on throughout history. I mean it is a very interesting valley the reason it is capable of sustaining us is that inherently both geographically & by humans been developed  & evolved to be a self sufficient valley. It was a leper colony since before Roman Times & as a leper colony it had to be self-sufficient people weren’t aloud in & people weren’t supposed to be aloud out. We’ve gained a lot by work that’s been done by countless thousands of people through thousands of years for example we didn’t build the terraces we’ve fixed some of the walls cleared some of the land but we didn’t build them. For example the water comes from right back in the water its from a water mine & when you enter the water mine there’s a key stone & the key stone has 1610 so like we’re renovating & also evolving with kind of modern materials ancient systems. The irrigation system is a Moorish irrigation system from the 6th or 7th century. So we’re constantly working to repair the valley in order to be self sufficient & the infrastructure was designed to be self sufficient which makes it such an interesting process.  

What’s the current state of the house & what’s the main work that needs to be done now?

Well the house was empty for 53 years what you have to consider is that when we arrived there was hardly any glass the roof was completely trashed the house was full of rubble there was no water no heat no light all the gardens were completely overgrown there was no footpaths no steps so gradually we’ve been renovating the house the first priority was to make a section of the house livable because we squatted in winter. First of all put glass in one room put a stove in one room we’re all sleeping together in one room. I think we’ve rewired the house 3 times because we’re a squat we’re unstable so we never know ho long we’re gonna be here & as we’ve stabilised more & more we’ve upgraded our work so now the house is quite safely wired where as at the beginning it was quite squatty. We basically rebuilt the inside of the hose twice. The first time was kinda emergency building to get it up & running the second time was to get the social project up & running which had to be done quickly because we were going to court for the eviction & now that the living group is quite stable & there aren’t so many people coming & going we’re dividing rooms because a lot of people were living in rooms that we’re very wet & every time it rained they’d  have to move their stuff out. We’ve divided the big room so we’ve got a big office we’ve installed wood fuelled central heating in some rooms. To make the workspaces more livable because in the winter its much colder on the inside so your not sitting freezing at a computer or whatever. 

One of the most interesting ecological systems that we’re putting in at the moment is an inside shower & connecting hot water to the kitchen which is the first time we’ve ever had hot water inside the house & also radiators in some rooms & the systems gonna run on a wood fired stove as a primary heat source & also we’re gonna fit a Spanish solar water heaters along the front of the house & then we’ll have  a combined system. Even when today in the middle of winter its quite hot inside the house it is quite hot as Spanish houses are designed to keep out the heat. & We can learn lesson from the outside solar shower that we’ve built so hopefully this one is gonna be much better. We don’t really know anyone else who’s designed this kinda system & hopefully it’s a technology that’s quite transferable to other similar projects around the place.   

So I know your passionate about the water system; do you wanna say something about this? 

Living here is very nice because we have our ethics. For example water conservation is an ethic of mine & many of the people who live here & by living here we’ve forced ourselves into a position were we have to as a daily concept think about our resource use for example the water comes from the mountain from the water mine & only so much comes & we can only use so much water In fact we’ve 2 springs running one that runs directly to the house & one that runs to the swimming pool which is like a public spring which means we get people running into the garden we get to meet them. At the back we have a four cubic meter drinking water tank & this water has to come to the kitchen to the shower & the washing machine & the bathroom. & there’s only so much water everyday so everyone in the house has to be constantly aware of how much water they are using especially in the summer when the flow is right down.

This is something that can also be applicable to somewhere else that even if you are connected to the mains you could just build a tank & say this is how much water we have & this is how much water we’re gonna use & design grey water systems & once you start to live it your mind opens up & you really start to feel a lot more solidarity & a lot more empathy for people in other parts of the world who have it as a daily  reality. I mean for us its sort of a privilege but we try not to take it as such & increase our empathy.

Its also a way how we interact very nicely with the people in the community who have their gardens because some of them are from the very south of Spain where there is not much water. So they come with a lot of knowledge about how to conserve water which to them is not environmental or not a hippy concept. But is just a very essential way of being. They help us a lot to minimise evaporation or just very common sense ways of reusing water for instance the saucepan is full of water so you reuse it to clean the toilet. & I think its one of our main ethics & because its so integral & we have no option but to think of it like that you can apply it to other areas of your life. For example with electricity you always turn the light off. It makes you aware of exactly how precious it is to have a resource. For example when last year when we didn’t have any water all the gardens died & we didn’t eat but we’re lucky we just go in the city & go skipping but if we were really rural we wouldn’t have that option.  

& the electrics?

Basically in the long term what we aim to do is be totally self sufficient in the electricity in the short term its not so easy. Neither the facts about sustainable energy aren’t so clear for instance when we we’re thinking of converting the house to solar one of the first things we learned was that if we used old recycled equipment old recycled panels & batteries their not that sustainable. More energy would go into producing an old panel than you could ever get back & its all fossil fuel technology or nuclear. So we’re still going a little slowly. We had a system that powered the lighting for the house that was solar & then we had to dismantle the panels for some action in town & we didn’t but it back together because we’re intent on upgrading the system. Ultimately what we aim to have is a system that is powered by a windmill that goes up on the roof & we have a switch that just for ourselves we’re only using power we produce ourselves but if we do a big social function a party or a big dinner for lots of people or if we’re doing a welding project we can just work of the mains. Currently its not ideal but we just work of the mains.

What do you see as the main difference between what goes on here at CMD & other social centres in Europe?

One of the main differences & other projects I’ve been involved in the north is the amount of involvement & support from the public which we’ve strived for very hard in other centres but we never achieved the situation where when you wake up there’d be twenty grannies in the garden with their grandchildren running around. Its difficult to decide if this is a regional/cultural thing & all the other social centres have this or if its specific to the situation of this project & the dynamic of this project. If I’m really honest then I think that in England that this project would be as successful because I really don’t think that the public is so open to alternative ideas. Or on the other hand the media paints alternative lifestyles & squatters in such a dark light that people are scared off coming through the gate. Here the people just aren’t scares of us. They think we’re a bit strange & I think that the old people are quite proud of us. Some of the things we try to do some of the gardening techniques or producing as much food as possible or being as autonomous from the state as possible I think that they remember it from when they were younger because of the political history of Spain because of the dictatorship & there’s a struggle for freedom here in Catalonia constantly this kinda dynamic of autonomy or trying to devolve power so people are much more open to the concepts that we talk about than perhaps they would be in London or Leeds or somewhere.

& In Holland in the social centres… Of course a fundamental difference is the weather when the sun comes out everyone is very happy. & in Holland when its raining everyday people find it difficult to get out & about & have time to be relaxed & the pace of life is faster people are more in their houses. So they don’t get involved so much.

In Holland when you have a big house its absolutely freezing so its very difficult if you live in a a life of central heating & luxury to come along & eat you’re moldy old food & sit around in a cold house & here this kinda problem doesn’t exist.

Do you think there are aspects of this project that are transferable to social centres in other countries?

Some of the main aspects that are applicable to any country especially any westernised country is the angle that we take on environmentalisms & the links we try to make between that & the other social conflicts in society. Linking environmental struggle to economic struggle & the struggle against the capitalist system. For example I think that any project around issues of food production is applicable to any environment & any project like this we’re we invite people to come & use the land

One of the key success of the project (& other people are creating the se successes now not just the living group) is that we opened up the land to anybody that wanted to come we said that anyone could have a garden within the limits of the water supply & the limits of the land who promises to work organically & without transgenics. So immediately we had quite   diverse collection of people because not a lot of people have access to gardens its not a green city at all so we had people who had their own interest & through the process of collectivised work & through the court cases we had lots of cases we’re people kept trying to throw of us the land or brought other experiences of struggle that they had & collectivised them & I think this is really applicable in any country. You invite & encouraged diverse collection of people diverse age range social background diverse nationality & they have an individual goal or individual benefit that can only be achieved if they work collectively. It wasn’t an amazing strategy that we had before but its just something we watched develop & that’s very interesting. 

Other aspects. When as a living group we develop something that makes our life easier. Like the solar shower its on show & it’s a very successful way of demonstrating things to people & getting people involved.  For example now I’m building a shower inside & some of the aspects I’m not sure what to do so then I go into the garden & ask one of the guys who’s spent all his life as a builder & then in the house he’s teaching me how to do some tiling or whatever & he asks me what I’m doing & then I’m explaining the whole system & the concept of conserving energy. So first of all you have to create the bridge to the community to the people & dynamics where by you help each other. They bring information to you which is very useful & at the same time you give some knowledge back which is actually an environmental political philosophy. & I think it’s a model that can transfer to any area its not culturally or regionally specific.

Some of the other things are not so transferable. For example the house & the ground & the valley is a geographical thing & we’re just so lucky to have our hands on it I think when we get evicted (which definitely we will at some point) that we would struggle to recreate this project anywhere else because without the land or without the water system or the access to the city which is just 5 minutes away are not recreate able. But that doesn’t mean that there are not mutations of it which cannot evolve. 

The other transferable thing is taking this kinda project outta the city but not so far that people from the city can’t be involved in it so in some ways we act as a bridge between rural projects that really go for things we symbolically create. For example we’re symbolically self sufficient if we really wanted to be self sufficient we wouldn’t have time to do very much social work. But what were doing is enough to create a bridge to the people that are really doing it & it opens the minds of the people that are passing to this kinda life. So that’s very transferable building bridges between the rural & urban environment & bringing technologies & philosophies from the country to the city & vice versa.

Also being an international community is really important. For example the solar shower in Greece is considered to be really normal & is no seen as a hippy thing at all but here nobody has it but it’s the same amount of sun. So people walk past & see the shower & think very clever but in the Greek people who live here say in Greece everybody has it. & all of a sudden it starts to work out. The international angle is very important. If in England you’re gonna do something & you do it only with English people you’re not getting dynamics from anywhere else & when you get foreigners involved this is also transferable.

Anything else you'd like to add?

One thing that’s quite important is that a lot of people who come here to stay with us or pass by & see what we’re doing see it as a kinda paradise & to an extent its true. But the thing is its not a Paradise & paradise does not exist in the world we live in in the moment. Which is why we don’t reach complete self-sufficiency or complete auto organisation. But that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be visible in struggling to create some kind of paradise or it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be proud of what we do like everyone in the world that is. The main piece of information that we impart quite successfully here is that if everyone took care of the piece of land where they live & put a lot of love into where they are & to really look into the resources they are using that that is a step closer to paradise & we have to begin somewhere & this is where we begin.     










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